Fall reading / link roundup
This song by Asher Senator was featured on Life Between Islands: Black Musical Expression in the UK 1973-2016, a compilation album released by Soul Jazz Records earlier this year. I can find almost no information about Asher Senator other than that he started making music around age 14 and was active in the British deejay scene in the 1980s. The song is a super-catchy amalgam of passages from the Psalms and Asher Senator’s own statements of faith and devotional practice.
Agnes Collard in The Point makes the case that the purpose of art is not for portraying edifying or constructive sentiments, but for showing us what evil (the moral kind, as well as the simply misfortunate kind) is really like. Her discussion centers around literature but she says her principles could also be applied to music, films, and paintings.
Speaking of evil, Lawrence Klimecki gives a quick overview of the history of portrayals of demons in western religious art. Hildegard von Bingen’s depiction of devils as blackened stars is an interesting and unusual perspective. Klimecki quotes an “old maxim of sacred art”: “Evil may be depicted but it must be depicted beautifully.” And now I’m going to have to spend some time contemplating that profoundly unsettling paradox.
If you’ve ever read Pride and Prejudice, or watched the two admirable film adaptations, you probably have an opinion on Mr. Collins. Joy Clarkson pushes back on the usual disgust or annoyance that people often feel when thinking about Jane Austen’s obnoxious vicar, arguing that he is a model of thankfulness and contentment, worthy of our emulation: “Perhaps even after all this you will still insist that Mr. Collins is laughable, and I would say that there is one more lesson that we have to learn from him: do not care too much of what other people think of you. Do not care even if they think your life is silly. While we all laugh and chortle about how weird he is, Mr. Collins is living his best life now.”
What happens when a young assistant pastor and some seminary students try to update their church’s library of Amish romances with some theological textbooks? And what does the Amish Romance genre signify anyway? Sam George relates what happened in his church and offers a valuable lesson for anyone trying to accomplish institutional change: “The issue isn’t that we started too big; we didn’t make a large change to the library. The problem is that we started too high—that is, removed from those we wanted to reach.” A point worth remembering, indeed. His explorations of the meaning and significance of the genre are also quite valuable.
Fallen by Ann Hamilton is an ethereal and evocative artist project. Featuring 126 scanned autumn leaves and an innovative interface, the project invites viewers to explore the leaves’ shapes, shadows, textures, and colors giving opportunity for intriguing reflection, curiosity, and even wonder at these most easily overlooked natural treasures. Every year, my family and I take a leaf walk around our neighborhood, and we usually bring back a few bags and buckets full. I’ve never thought of scanning the really good ones, though.
Kurt Vonnegut’s advice to a high school class is pure gold, and dovetails perfectly with Makato Fujimura’s vision of art as Culture Care. Fujimura sees art as an essential tool for ministering to the culture we see outside of and around us; Vonnegut’s advice is the same, except that he is addressing the needs of our inward, personal culture.
Rebecca Solnit’s essay on women’s work and the myth of the art monster was new to me. She argues that the stereotypical female roles—nurturing, homemaking, etc.—are simultaneously not the defining characteristics of women and not necessarily antithetical to the work of art-making. Creating art can be a nurturing activity, one that, at the core, isn’t really selfish at all; as Solnit writes, “You make art because you think what you make is good, and good means that it’s good for other people.” Giving up some of the more “mundane” things of life to make art is an unrealistic attitude toward the artistic calling; again, Fujimura’s concept of Culture Care is in strong evidence here.
Also in LitHub: Tammy Nguyen’s description of her art books O and Four Ways Through a Cave. The amount and significance of all the details in her books is extraordinarily fascinating. Have you ever heard of an author imparting symbolic significance to the arched shape of her book’s perfect-bound spine? Nguyen does so.
A good painting: Franklin Carmichael, Autumn Hillside, 1920.